Investing in Fisheries and People in Solomon Islands

In Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean, where it’s estimated only nine percent of women have a formal paying job, three young women all in their early twenties count themselves lucky.

Nella Qurusu, Zilla Pasemaly Pitu and Alice Andriana Muaki are the first female cadets working for the country’s only domestic based fishing company, National Fisheries Developments, Ltd. (NFD). It supplies fish for its sister company, the country’s only tuna processor facility, SolTuna, based in Noro, Western Province.  

A small, remote archipelago in the South Pacific, Solomon Islands faces unique development challenges. Its population of about 600,000 people is spread thinly over about 90 islands and the post conflict country has been heavily reliant on logging in the past, facing pressing needs for other sources of economic growth.

With one of the world’s largest and most plentiful fishing grounds, Solomon Islands relies on the tuna in its waters for revenue, food security and exports. Revenue from tuna accounts for about 18 percent of the country’s GDP.  IFC has been working to help the country retain more revenue from its tuna and create jobs.

For Nella from Choiseul Province in Solomon Islands, joining NFD as a female cadet has allowed her to see new provinces and learn new skills.

“It’s great,” she said.  “We keep lookout in the fishing zones, tie the ropes, clean the decks and chip the rust from the ship’s deck.”  
And while all three young women admitted it took a lot of courage to apply for and decide to take up a cadetship, they hope too to be viewed as role models.

“First I told my mum and she was like ‘oh in the ships? They are expecting boys, not girls. But then I asked her if I could try it and she kind of agreed with it,” Nella said. “Most of the women nowadays mostly stay at home. So, we are thinking that if we do this, maybe some of the young girls will see us and think they should work like this and be like us.”

IFC first began its support for the fishing industry in Solomon Islands with a US$10 million loan to help SolTuna expand its tuna processing facility, marking IFC’s first investment in wild-catch fisheries in 15 years.

And just last year, IFC and the private sector window of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) approved its first investment for NFD, a US$10 million loan for the purchase of a new fishing vessel. Now that’s been followed up with another $10 million loan to the company – again from IFC and GAFSP’s private sector window for another vessel.

It all signals IFC’s moves to maximize development finance by working with GAFSP as well as the World Bank, and with the support of the Australian and New Zealand Governments, to bolster sustainable fisheries and jobs in Solomon Islands.

The investments have been backed up by IFC’s advisory services working with SolTuna’s management on solutions for women, labor and occupational health and safety, helping the company significantly cut costs and reduce absenteeism- from about 18 percent to 12 percent.  And IFC has also worked with NFD on environmental and social standards, including improved working conditions.
The loans to NFD have allowed the company to buy two more purse seiner vessels – the large fishing vessels with nets used to catch tuna. With the latest loan, NFD now has seven purse seiners and three pole and line vessels.

Frank Wickham, Managing Director of NFD, says with the loans, NFD is creating more direct new jobs, while each large purse seiner which will add at least an additional 7,000 metric tons to the fleet’s annual catch, most of it for processing at SolTuna.

And with the increased catch, that means Therefore, more fish from NFD, SolTuna’s only supplier of tuna, means more jobs at SolTuna for processing the tuna for the domestic and export markets.

It’s estimated the loans to NFD have resulted in about 150 new jobs at SolTuna and about 50 jobs at NFD.  

“That’s the main rationale why we went for the big boats,” Wickham said. “One is overall to increase our catch for SolTuna. Secondly, the catch is seasonal in different parts of the Pacific, so when fishing is low here, the big boats can go further out and catch and bring the fish back here. We can then maintain a good consistent supply of raw material for the cannery.”

NFD, with a workforce with about 300 men, now has 22 full time female workers, with about another 50 women working part time. Its full time female staff hold managerial positions including assistant operations manager, HR manager, ships agency manager, warehouse manager and compliance manager.

Wickham said the decision to hire female cadets was based on NFD’s equal opportunity recruitment policy and in response to applications from young women.

“It was also done to show NFDs commitment to the Waka Mere initiative and our support for the Women in Maritime Association in Solomon Islands,” he said.

The Waka Mere Commitment to Action, an initiative of IFC and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is comprised of 17 of Solomon Islands’ largest businesses, encompassing more than 6000 employees, and is now undertaking measures to move more women into leadership positions, build respectful and supportive workplaces, and promote women to non-traditional jobs.

IFC’s work in Solomon Islands has been supported by Australia and New Zealand under the Pacific Partnership. Australia, New Zealand and IFC are working together through the Partnership to stimulate private sector investment and reduce poverty in the Pacific.